A Love Letter To Pizza, A Food That Is Good (And Almost Never Bad)

11.04.15 26 Comments


Let’s talk about pizza. As the legend goes, pizza, in its most recognizable current form, was dreamed up in 1890 by an Italian baker named Raffaele Esposito. To honor the visiting Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, he baked a flatbread with ingredients that represented the colors of the country’s flag; tomatoes for red, basil leaves for green, and fresh mozzarella for white. Thus, the ‘Pizza Margherita’ was born. It was by no means “the first pizza,” though. Italian bakers had already been adding tomato to flatbreads for decades, possibly longer. And flatbreads with toppings had been around since Ancient Greece, at least. But you know the old saying: When the legend becomes the story, print the legend. Congratulations, Raffaele Esposito, Inventor of Pizza! [citation needed]

Pizza came to America shortly after, with Italian immigrants opening up shops in their new neighborhoods and serving it to people hungry for a taste of home. It stayed in these neighborhoods, more or less, until World War II veterans, who had developed a taste for it while stationed in Italy, returned home and started spreading the word. This is one of those historical facts that seems perfectly logical if you take it at face value (“Oh, of course they told everyone about pizza when they came home, because pizza is great”), but becomes super confusing under the tiniest bit of scrutiny. Here’s my point: For this to be true, early non-Italian Americans had to spend 50 years walking past pizzerias, smelling the fresh mozzarella melting into the quickly toasting crust, processing that information in their brains, and then saying, “Nope! Not for me! One bowl of cold gruel, please!” If true, this has to be one of the most powerful examples of xenophobia in history. Top ten, easy. I mean: Pizza! People didn’t eat pizza! It’s madness.

Speaking of madness, once pizza did get popular in America, hoo boy. Based on my extensive research on the subject (googled “number of pizza restaurants in the us” and clicked on the first link), there are more than 70,000 pizza restaurants in the United States right now, at which American consumers spend more than $30 billion a year. That, scientifically speaking, is a lot of pizza. Some might even say it is too much pizza. But these people would be wrong. Or, perhaps, doctors.

(Wanna know something else I learned while researching pizza today? There’s a Pizza Hall of Fame. A Pizza Hall of Fame! You can’t possibly imagine how excited I became upon learning this. I had images in my head of an entire wing filled with famous pizza memorabilia, great moments in pizza history, and dozens and dozens of mustachioed bronze busts of the world’s greatest pizza makers. I was ready to book a trip, at which point I learned something very upsetting: There is no real, physical Pizza Hall of Fame. It’s just a website maintained by “the pizza industry’s business publication,” PMQ Pizza Magazine. This was, and continues to be, devastating.)

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